Nice little uptick in trade rumors this week because Elliotte Friedman reported renewed interest from somewhere in the Western Conference — perhaps more than one somewhere — in acquiring Erik Karlsson.
Specifically, Friedman mentioned Vancouver as potentially being interested, but it was quickly reported by others that the Canucks were, perhaps, not as all-in on Karlsson as some might have wanted. The Canucks are hosting the 2019 draft with eight picks already in their ledger (they also got Washington’s sixth-round pick at the 2018 draft) and are, according to Jim Benning, unwilling to trade any of those picks.
Which makes the argument that Vancouver was just seeing what the price was and, upon hearing it, decided to pass.
Now, you can argue that giving up a first-round pick when you can get Karlsson is probably a good idea even if it means you’re not picking in the first round in your home building, but the problem for Vancouver is manifold here. For one thing, Karlsson has a 10-team no trade and one imagines the idea of going to Vancouver is something that has not appealed to him for a while.
Moreover, even if Vancouver weren’t on his no-trade list, any team acquiring Karlsson would of course want assurances that he would not be a prospective one-and-done with that club. After all, indications are that he wants to sign with Tampa on July 1, which of course makes the prospect of giving up a potentially sizable package to obtain him (and we’ll get to that package in a second) difficult to sell yourself on if you’re not a preferred destination. Put another way, we have seen teams in the past trade for guys on expiring contracts hoping to show themselves off as a great club where the player can put down roots. Karlsson’s well-known desire to go to one specific team means no one in their right mind would risk that kind of deal.
(This obviously comes with the acknowledgement that a number of GMs in this league operate their teams as though they are not in their right minds.)
Especially at the rumored price the Senators are seeking. Quoting from Bruce Garrioch here: “The belief is the asking price is at least four assets in return, including a player who can help the club immediately, a first-round pick and a high-end prospect.” Garrioch also notes that the Sens “don’t feel any sense of urgency” on such a trade and that they believe he’ll show up to camp if they don’t move him before mid-September.
Which, OK, that’s all the backstory here. Teams want Karlsson (no kidding) but his contract situation complicates things (no kidding) and despite those complications the Sens are still looking for a boatload (no kidding).
Let’s just get it out of the way right now and say that Ottawa’s “we’re in no rush to trade him and he’ll definitely report” attitude seems a little too casual. “Ah yeah no big deal to us if we trade him or we don’t, like y’know whatever.”
If you’re well-trained in sussing out this kind of thing, as any long-time hockey fan should be by now, this all seems an awful lot like Ottawa getting in touch with media people and trying to drum up a little more interest so they can actually get the asking price they’re putting out there.
Let’s be clear: A player of Karlsson’s quality doesn’t even hit the trade market, let alone unrestricted status, very often. Probably the last time a defenseman anywhere near that good was a UFA was Zdeno Chara (hey, look what team he was leaving!) and Ottawa can’t afford to let another Hall of Fame defensemen go for nothing, right? But because Karlsson’s on a very team-friendly deal and may not be that likely to sign somewhere that isn’t Tampa or, yes, Vegas, well that brings the price down.
Players like Karlsson don’t get traded for four pieces including a good roster player, an A-level prospect and a first-round pick. It’s hard to make that work if you’re not in, say, Tampa’s position of having a lot of talent from which to draw in the first place. And given the prevalence of no-trade and no-moves in this league that any reasonable player would use to say, “No thanks” to playing for the Senators, that further impedes the likelihood of a trade that pulls something Ottawa is saying it wants.
The price allegedly wasn’t too high at the last trade deadline, because Vegas apparently only balked at giving up Cody Glass in the deal for both Karlsson and Bobby Ryan. Glass is good but he’s not a franchise-changing talent, so perhaps one can argue Ottawa’s just looking for a little more juice than that simply by floating these rumors.
Vancouver would be wise to not part with, say, Elias Petterson or Quinn Hughes in such a deal because Karlsson isn’t coming back to them in July either way. But Glass, or a Glass-type prospect, isn’t of that quality. If the Canucks thought they could re-sign Karlsson for the cost of, say, Olli Juolevi, well that’s when you make sure Jake Virtanen is free to drive both of them to the airport.
But again, this really just seems like Ottawa trying to get that asking price a little higher and maybe getting one or two interested parties to start bidding against themselves a little more.
Obviously it’s tough to guess whether that’s actually going to work — and given that we’re talking about the Senators, one can imagine that it won’t. But when you’re looking at not just Karlsson, but Mark Stone and probably a few other name-brand players wanting out, you gotta do what you gotta do.
Is four pieces of that caliber a lot to ask for if the player comes with this many strings attached? Absolutely. Do the Senators have a duty to get as much for a generational talent as they possibly can, regardless of how badly they’ve handled almost everything for most of his career? Of course.
So a little mid-August salesmanship — for both potential trade partners and the rumor-starved hockey world at large — is definitely in order. Even if no one really believes much is going to come of it.
All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.